Monday, April 2, 2012

Where Good Minds Die

I'm talking about fundamentalism, of course. Not just fundamentalist Christianity (although that's the sphere I use as an example). Fundamentalist anything. And please note that I didn't include "go to" as the 4th and 5th words in the title. Like a People's Temple survivor once said, no one sets out to join a cult. In other words, no rational, intelligent, healthy person says, "I want to shut down my brain and critical thought and join such and such group". It doesn't work that way. Instead, you (hopefully) have a functional mind and healthy conscience, you get exposed to a group or person and their message, they work their mojo on you, and it's "RIP brain", because your mind and critical thought are now the enemy of the group or teaching you've become immersed in, and what they offer is now a drug to you.

You don't accept the teaching? It's simple. You don't have enough "faith". Translation: You need to stop thinking, you godless infidel, and do more of our drug.

My opinions and commentary on fundamentalism and evangelical Christianity at large are often met with "Well you aren't even a real Christian" in some form or other. A real Christian? Hmm. I think I'm gonna borrow the idea of a FB friend. From now on, when someone asks me if I'm a Christian, I'm gonna respond with "Tell me what you consider to be a Christian, and I'll tell you whether or not that's what I am." That seems the most direct path to me, what with so much of what passes as "Christianity" being things I want no part of. I don't want my mind to die just so I can wear a particular label. I realize there has to be some aspect of faith involved for it to actually be "faith", but that doesn't mean God instructs or requires me to be a dummy.

Between the election process histrionics of the candidates and their supporters, Kirk Cameron's new movie "Monumental" (should've left out the "monu" part), the recent solar storms, and probably a full moon or two, I've seen a lot of dead minds in recent weeks. Brains so blatantly necrotic when they don't need to be. My old favorite 2nd Chronicles 7:14 has made its usual rounds, stirring up cheers, praise, and emotionalism from religious addicts just like it's supposed to. And, no one is happy when you try to take their drug away. Critical thought is to the religious addict what the DEA is to a drug cartel.

A couple of things I've been chewing on a bit...

If I were to tell someone, "Love me or I'll kill you!", I'd rightfully be locked away in either a prison or a mental hospital...yet we're ok with a version of God who says that? Seriously? We're ok with that? That IS the version of God promoted, worshiped, and "loved" by fundamentalist Christianity. I don't pretend to have all the answers as to the nature of God (because I have few - although I believe in a God of love), but I know "Love me or I'll kill you!" isn't something I'd say to another human, EVER, with or without the exclamation point, and I'd like to believe that God is better than me. Not worse. Not equal to. Better. A million times better. As I've said before, we'd better hope that the OT writers misunderstood and misrepresented God as much as we do today, cause the picture they painted is of a narcissistic sociopath with extreme insecurities. There's no getting around that. I have to kill my brain to get around that. 

Then, there's the issue of "hell" and eternal torment. The sad thing about hell is that fundamental literalists gloss right over what the literal reading of their own bibles has to say about hell. NO ONE will spend eternity in hell, but hell spends eternity EMPTY - Revelation 20:13-14. According to that passage (taken literally), "hell" gets judged before any entity which had previously occupied it ever gets judged.

I know that the NT tells us after death comes the judgment. Really, though, that doesn't tell us a lot. In saying this I'm not endorsing Rob Bell, cause I haven't read his book and know very little about his teaching, but I do agree with him that anything beyond death puts us firmly into the realm of speculation. Firmly, entirely, and any number of other descriptives. Think about it this way - If you were to ask me "What will happen when I die?", I can answer that question less definitively than I could answer "What would it be like to visit Japan?"...and I've never been to Japan. BUT, I do have photos of Japan, videos of Japan, can access solid contemporary AND ancient literature and information about Japan, know people who've been to Japan, and know some Japanese people. That's FAR more evidence than what I have about the afterlife. The same is true of any "Love me or I'll kill you!"-esque preacher, so why would you take their word about YOUR eternity? They don't know anything more about it than you do. As someone who trusts in a good God, I can only rely on His Spirit within me to direct my knowledge on a personal level. There's really nothing more I can offer someone regarding eternity. I have hope, and I don't feel the need to "back it up with scripture"...or the need to defend it at all. Frankly, "scripture" would in many cases make me feel less hopeful about the nature of God, and I'm not willing to give up my brain to accept a lesser version of God.

When I see people so desperately and neurotically need there to be an eternal, tormenting hell, I know that religious addiction is involved, rearing its head most often in the form of either fear or an extreme need to win and see the losers punished. That isn't healthy. That isn't even decent.

If God isn't a million times better than you, why would you worship Him?

Resurrect your mind and think about it.


  1. My cognitive dissonance with this started when a friend and I were discussing God's character in light of 1Cor know the love never fails part. She aptly, and quite by accident blurted out that God seems to expect more out of us than He is willing to do (or something to that effect).

    Critical thought had reared it's head.

    I always enjoy your posts, but don't comment often, this one really touched me, though.

  2. "As I've said before, we'd better hope that the OT writers misunderstood and misrepresented God as much as we do today, cause the picture they painted is of a narcissistic sociopath with extreme insecurities. There's no getting around that. I have to kill my brain to get around that."

    I can so relate to this! When I tried to share how I felt about the OT God that the Bible portrayed to the pastor at the former church we went to, I was met with was that the Bible was true and a true Christian would understand the teachings of God. Of course, I was also met with having my salvation questioned because I believed that men and women were equal. Religious addiction at work. That was the last we saw of that church. (the pastor there was fairly new and started delving in the fundamentalist side about a year before we left, though it came to its worst when I challenged him and he eventually ran people off and then left the church. Now they're left to pick up the pieces. So sad.)

  3. It's funny how uncomfortable some Christians get when the doctrine of hell is questioned. "But if there's no hell, there's no punishment for sin! Its not fair!" I've heard some say.

    But if they're a Christian, don't they believe that Jesus took the punishment for their sin? So their sin hasn't been punished. Or, if you want to split hairs, its been punished, but the punishment was not meted out on the person committing the sin. Yet they're strangely comfortable for that.

    Judging by what most evangelicals/fundamentalists believe, fairness is not something that God cares about at all. I've also heard it said that God created some humans to be objects of his mercy, and some to be objects of his wrath. Yeah, that's fair. If I said that about my kids I'd be considered a monster.

    It's also funny how many actions of God can be viewed in that way (i.e, if I did that I would be locked up, as you said in the post). And yet we're supposed to get all teary eyed about how AWESOME God is and how much he LOVES us.



  4. Good post, Lewis. Only one thing I take issue with - the absence of Revelation 20:15 which says "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." A lake of fire sounds just as bad or worse than hell to me. :(

    Your very last comment is one that I want to ask every calvinist I meet. Their god doesn't say "love me or I'll kill you". It says "you can't love me because I didn't give you the choice to love me, and you'll burn for it. I do this to glorify myself." The calvinist's god is so evil, and yet they worship it.

  5. 2 Cor 5:14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

    At the very beginning, this was the message of Christianity. The nature of the Atonement was not hard-core substitutionary atonement, but more Christus Victor. The idea was not that Jesus bore God's punishment for us all because God hated us so effing much, but that somehow the magical blood of God set us free from bondage to the kingdom of darkness, and RECONCILED us to God!

    The good news was that God was no longer counting men's trespasses against them, and we were supposed to go and tell everyone. Like the general in the Dispatch hit, we were supposed to be telling everyone:

    Go now, you are forgiven. Share this life with others.

    Echoing the Savior himself, who said something very similar almost everytime he healed someone. "your sins are forgiven: go and sin no more"

    This is who Jesus is to me: the Savior of the world, the Great Reconciler, the One who loves. I have never had a near-death experience, but I have had a near-God experience. And I know that I know that I know:

    God exists.

    When I called on the name of Jesus, this God answered.

    God is great, as in overwhelmingly humongously powerful and large.

    God is good, as in so good there is not an ounce of ill will in his heart. He is the ultimate in lovingkindness, good will, acceptance. God does not hold grudges, I assure you.

    God loves me. And this he showed me when I was totally despised and rejected by church and society. I was breaking all the rules, and God showed me THEN that He exists, that He is love, and that He accepts me as I am. No, adores me as I am. As I was that day. Believe me, I was no church lady at the time.

    I wish I could relive that experience, or even better, be able to give it to others by Vulcan mind meld.

    After being accused of being "liberal" and "not a real Christian" myself, I eventually started reading the verboten books- Rob Bell's included. He asks lots of questions in that book, but never gives definitive answers. It was daring to ask the questions that p.o.'d the religious establishment so much.

    Now I'm reading Jim Palmer. Just finished Divine Nobodies and am waiting for Being Jesus in Nashville. I also have read Greg Boyd and Thomas Talbott. You might want to check them out.

    Fundamentalism is the religion of the people who crucified our Lord, the ones who wanted to keep control of people's ideas about God and wanted them to equate allegiance to their religious system with godliness. Jesus changed all that, and sent the Holy Spirit to blow wherever He wills.

    Man, is God ever good.

    1. Thanks for this, Shadowspring. What you've described is the kind of christianity I was raised up in and still believe in today. Not the effing mess that's presented to us as christianity today. And thanks to you Lewis for being brave enough to take a public stand for what's right. Hope you are doing OK.

  6. Thomas Talbott's work was life-changing for me. From a logical and a scriptural sense, universal reconciliation -- Christus Victor as Shadowspring said -- is far more powerful than a puny substitutionary atonement. God wills us to reconcile with himself. Christ came to reconcile the WORLD. All of Creation. All of it. Either we believe he is able to accomplish his will, or he is less than all powerful.

    But if I dared to say that I am now a believer in Universal Reconciliation, I expect I would be given a good talking to by my church friends and leaders.

    1. Moira,

      If they are anything like the evangelical crowd I know, you would get more than a talking to- you would be excommunicated. If not officially, they would just make you uncomfortable until you quit going, up to and including yelling at you in front of your husband and son, and calling you a liar when you honestly deny false accusations.

      That's how my LCMC pastor handled my change of mind.


      Exactly the same response you'll get if you ask them to explain Matt 25:31- 46.

    2. Yup. And it was reading both those passages (as well as others) that made me conclude that when Paul talked about being saved and Jesus talks about receiving eternal life, that neither of them were necessarily talking about being saved *from hell*.

  7. Rev. 20:12-13
    And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

    13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

    Nearly every fundamentalist I've talked to about this passage claims that either the judgment according to works condemns everyone but the "saved" or that the judgment by works does not apply to the "saved" but to the "unsaved." They seem unable to read or access the plain sense of the passage: "they were judged every man according to their works."

    (and that "man" is the gender-inclusive "man" as in "human being", just in case someone pops up and says that the "plain sense" doesn't apply to women ).

  8. Thank you! You write so much of what I've believed for years and sometimes been afraid (though I'm ashamed to admit that) to say.

    I love this:

    "Tell me what you consider to be a Christian, and I'll tell you whether or not that's what I am."

    YES. One of the first things I noticed when I started attending church regularly was that judging whether a person was a "real" christian or not seemed to be a popular sport. And I'm sure at this point I'd be judged not *really* a christian by a number of people (who, just to be clear, are christians, though I don't agree with the way the practice their faith).

  9. I really appreciate this post. Thank you.

  10. Flipping brilliant. I'm not sure how much credence I give to the book of Revelations, but even if it is legit... I wish people just read the whole Bible instead of hand picking parts.

    If the Bible is the Word of God, then how in the world can they get such simple things missed like, "Hell will be judged" and "Hell will be destroyed." Even as a little kid it never sat right with me that somehow people were going to hell when the Bible clearly said that Hell was going to cease existing. The best I could understand is that evil people will one day cease to exist.

  11. yay.....programming people so that they can't think for themselves or they can't learn not to think for themselves. :p

  12. "My opinions and commentary on fundamentalism and evangelical Christianity at large are often met with 'Well you aren't even a real Christian' in some form or other..." oh, how being smugly told this makes me want to foam at the mouth in helpless fury - WHAT a copout! Since I don't believe the Bible is God's "perfect" word, it follows that there is no way that I can be a true Christian. As I am not a Believer and therefore devoid of the Holy Spirit, I can't begin to fathom what the Bible truly means. Do I believe that God as portrayed in the Bible is a "narcissistic sociopath with extreme insecurities"? Well, that is because I am in spiritually darkness and hath not light. What a convenient way for these folks not to be forced to actually use their minds...

  13. I just started reading Love Wins(with no shortage of fear and trembling)He voices questions we've all had. I have not finished or figured it out yet. I did a little search to see what others were saying about the book. I found this little video from Francis Chan.(he seems to be the kinder, gentler calvinist) After watching the video, I felt like I'd been pimp-slapped by Mr. Rodgers. In a very kind, loving, albeit melodramatic way, he brought the hammer down on anyone with questions by accusing them of arrogance.

    1. I loved that book. Bell doesn't ever answer all those questions, but I love him for bringing them up!

  14. Hell or no hell, judged by our works or not, predestination or not....None of us have all the answers, never will, we can only speculate and guess. Scripture says "we see through a glass darkly". So we do not know all the nuances of scripture, what is meant and how to apply it. We know there is something on the other side but we cannot make it out clearly. And not knowing it all is ok. Only God is omniscient.

    I live in NE Texas. I know 2 people who died and met God, one already knowing him and the other not. Coincidentally, they live only a few miles apart. The one who died knowing God met Jesus and was sorry that she would miss raising her 5 children. In meeting Jesus, he started walking away from her and she had to follow him, up hill and down and it was very hard crawling after Him but as long as she followed Him, he would lead her and he would be there. She came back to life missing 2 legs below the knees and part of one arm. She slowly recovered, got to raise her kids and it was not easy, even divorce followed but she has remained faithful to God.

    The one who died not knowing God was a millionaire, drank heavily and spent lots of money on horses and other things. He said that he never had time for God. So when he died from a heart attack, it was as if God put his boot on his neck and said "You got time now?" He was ready to listen then.

    I know both these people and it is very interesting how their lives turned out after that. The millionaire lost all his money, his wife and stuff. He know ekes out a living training horses but certainly much happier and content and following God. Still a curmudgeon. The lady has false legs to walk on and is very independent for her age. She gets her hair done by the other guys's wife.